Indiana University President-elect Pamela Whitten is discovering that her values match those of her new employer.

Whitten was named the 19th president of the university on April 16. She will replace Michael A. Robbie, who has led the institution since 2007.

Whitten will also be the first female president in the university’s 201-year history.

The new to-be president — Whitten takes office on July 1 — checked out Indiana University Kokomo on Monday evening, part of her tour to each of the university’s regional campuses.

Whitten comes from Kennesaw State University in Georgia, where she’s been president since 2018. Indiana University’s reputation drew her interest, she said, during a brief press conference Monday.

Whitten spoke highly of IU’s commitment to its students. She’s seen it in Bloomington and said it’s prevalent at the regional campuses too. Kokomo was no different.

A meeting with faculty showed how dedicated the university branch is to a “very tailored, individualized education,” Whitten said.

“They’re deeply committed to their students,” she added.

IUK Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke said she’s looking forward to working with the new president.

“She shares our philosophy that student success is the most important part of our mission, and shows great support for our regional campuses,” the chancellor said in a statement. “I am happy we had the opportunity to showcase the great initiatives happening at IU Kokomo, and we are excited about the future.”

Whitten said there is a cohesiveness with the regional campuses in furthering the university’s broader goals of putting students first, research that can “transform and change the world,” and improving the quality of life in Indiana.

“That’s a special portfolio you don’t see in all good, large public institutions,” she said.

Whitten expects much of her new role to be listening and learning in the beginning. She kept answers to more specific questions broad and said her goals will come into focus once she finds out more about the university’s strengths and areas where it can improve.

But she knows students will be at the forefront.

“You always need to stop and someone in the room needs to raise the question, ‘How is this going to benefit our students?’” Whitten said. “I think if you keep that as your north star, that really lifts and elevates the entire campus.”

Whitten’s tenure at Kennesaw State saw minority enrollment increase from 43% in 2017 to nearly 49% in 2020. Prior to becoming president at Kennesaw, she served as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at University of Georgia. Whitten was also a dean at Michigan State University.

Previous leadership roles have featured uplifting other females. Whitten said she’s worked to create professional development opportunities for women at previous institutions.

“They were exceptionally well-received,” Whitten said.

The president-elect said she saw women move into leadership roles after helping them while at the University of Georgia.

In response to a question about the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitten said the current administration is in the process of determining what campus will be like next fall. Considered an expert in telemedicine, Whitten said she’ll rely on medical expertise when it comes to the pandemic.

Whitten said IU’s campuses are in good hands and noted how IU Health played a major role in steering not only the institution but the entire state through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We should really laud the efforts that have been put in place so far,” Whitten said.

Having faced tough decisions during the pandemic, Whitten is looking forward to helping the university turn the corner.

“It is so much more fun to plan to come out of a pandemic than it is to plan to go into a pandemic,” she said.

Whitten earned a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in communication from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree in management from Tulane University.

She worked in corporate communications prior to her academic career.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com.

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